The battle for the 2010 SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series championship will go down to the season finale at Road Atlanta on October 1, following a wild finish in the round at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday.
RJ Lopez, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, took the lead after a little paint swapping with race and championship-leader Tony Ave, of Maiden, N.C., in Turn 14 on the final lap of the 28-lap race and went on to take the victory by 2.713 seconds over Ave.
That pass, however, eventually cost Lopez ten points and a $500 fine. As a result, Ave now leads Lopez by 135 points in the driver standings, but needed a lead of 139 points following the VIR weekend to clinch the title. Lopez started second and picked up the second victory of his Trans-Am Series career after scoring his first win earlier this summer at Toronto. Today’s victory was Lopez’s seventh podium result in nine races this season.
“It was definitely exciting,” Lopez explained. “The crew did a helluva job getting the car together. We tried a pretty different setup than we’d run all year and it really seemed to work. I mean, the car really responded differently than it has all season. It was just a different driving style and I could really make it do whatever I wanted.”
Prior to the last-lap incident, Tony Ave had led every lap after starting from the pole position. He was poised to score his sixth victory of the season in the #4 Chevrolet Corvette and clinch the 2010 title. Instead, he was forced to settle for his eighth podium result in nine races this season.
He could do that as early as the qualifying session for the season finale. Ave has qualified on the pole six times this season and started from the pole at VIR based on championship points when Saturday’s qualifying session was rained out.
Ave was philosophical about the race’s outcome. “I guess I had to be further away to keep him from running into me. That’s the way it goes. It was exciting for everybody watching, and that was more important, I guess, than our feelings. I’m a big, big proponent of Trans-Am. I want people to like it. They’ll probably like that kind of stuff, so we’ll work our issues out. Hopefully, everybody had fun watching it anyway.”
Rounding out the Corvette domination of the podium was Doug Harrington, of Kemah, TX. This was his first podium result with a third-place run in the #00 Corvette. Harrington worked his way up from eighth on the starting grid.
The 10-race Trans Am season wraps up Sep. 29 – Oct. 1 at Road Atlanta. The 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course, near Braselton, GA, is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year.